Maze Runner

Maze Runner

By Columbia University OSA Student Chapter


The Columbia OSA/SPIE student chapter participated in the NY MakerFaire in Flushing, NY on October 1 and 2, 2016. This was the second time our chapter presented our Laser Maze exhibit at the two-day event, where Makers—Arduino and Raspberry Pi enthusiasts—demonstrate their scientific contraptions powered by those feisty lil’ micro-controllers. Our group built a ten-foot long PVC pipe construction of the maze. Equipped with lasers on one side and detectors on the other, kids of all ages roamed through the contraption in an effort to elude the light beams.

This year, several modifications were made to the setup. Peter Bullen, Columbia OSA vice-president, explains, “We wanted to make our second go-around more dynamic, so the laser pointers are attached to Arduino-controlled motors that sweep the laser beams back and forth. Now, completing the maze requires even more agility, balance, and body awareness.” Indeed, the kids were often surprised by the movement of the light beam, before going along with the game and hopping through the maze. Several elementary school teachers who had visited the exhibit during the previous year recalled the improvements and complimented us on the innovativeness of the project.

In addition to the Laser Maze, the student chapter also presented the Fear Inducer. Physiological parameters are optically measured and continuously monitored during various stimulating virtual environments. As Rajinder Singh-Moon, Columbia OSA secretary, explains, “The project started as an idea to correlate heart rate with scared reactions, by focusing infrared light on the pulse center of the participant’s wrist.” People were able to get a print out of what their heart rate was in real-time, captured during the virtual environment experience. Finally, our Laser Harp was a musical instrument that participants could play by blocking laser beams. Blocking a beam would reflect the light onto a small photodetector, and the harp would emit a specific note on a musical scale. The notes swept through the darkened auditorium room where our exhibit was stationed, as our many-colored lasers, ranging from purple, to green, to red, danced across the floor.

In order to make these events possible, we relied on the volunteering efforts of our supportive group of chapter members. Over twenty students from Columbia University joined in the activities of running the demos at MakerFaire. Thanks to the generosity of the OSA Centennial Special Events Grant, we estimate that over a thousand people from the general public passed through our booths over the course of two days and were educated with brochures on the UN’s International Year of Light as well as what part optics play in our daily life. The successful deployment of our exhibit was due in large part to the planning and fine-tuning performed by our chapter officers and members. In mid-Sept. 2016, we demoed the exhibits at a Columbia University Autumn Optical Carnival. From each of these successive experiences, we improved the setup to be more user-friendly, convenient, and fun. With help from Nathan Abrams, Asif Ahmed, Hao Yang, Yi Lin, Yiwen Shen, Peter Bullen, Raj Singh-Moon, and Christine Chen, we were able to pull off a stimulating first demonstration this school year. Here’s to many more iterations of Columbia OSA’s bright presence at NY MakerFaire.



-Written by Christine Chen, Columbia University OSA Student Chapter President, 2016

Posted: 1 December 2016 by Columbia University OSA Student Chapter | with 0 comments